Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Empty Tomb

The Empty Cross

The Empty Cross

Alleluia! Christ is risen
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

It was with this greeting and response; as we sat down to share our evening meal that a new term began at college. It was only two days beforehand that I had sat next to the Easter cross in my home church, celebrating Easter Sunday and here I was, back to my studies but with new tasks to complete and new challenges. It seemed the same, but then again it also seemed different

I suspect it was the like that for the women, who approached the tomb on the first day of the week. Yes, a dreadful thing had happened and yes, they were probably a bit disorientated and shaken, but they were coming to do what they would always have done if someone died – that at least was normal, but what happened next was very different

Each Gospel gives a slightly different version of accounts. In Mark there are several women together to who arrive to anoint the body, only to find that the stone sealing the tomb had been rolled back and inside was a young white-robed man telling them not to be afraid, but that the body wasn’t there. Despite his call for calm, they are terrified and flee from the tomb, too afraid to tell anyone what they have seen

In Matthew, it is two Marys who go to look at the tomb, only to experience an earthquake, caused by an angel’s descent from heaven; who puts the guards into a stupor and then shows them that Jesus is not in the tomb. He sends them fearfully, yet joyfully, to deliver a message to the disciples that they are to return to Galilee, only for them to meet Jesus himself who confirms what they must do.

In Luke we again hear about a group of women, who meet two dazzlingly dressed men and after being reminded of what Jesus had previously told them, return to the disciples only to be accused of idle talk until Peter runs to look for himself.

Finally, in John, it is Mary Magdalene who, on seeing that the stone has been removed, runs back to tell this to Simon Peter and the beloved disciple, who both then set off towards the tomb, the latter outrunning Peter to reach the tomb, but respectfully waiting for Peter to enter it first, only to be met by discarded linen wrappings. However, it is after this that Mary in a bitter-sweet moment encounters Jesus and can report this back to all the disciples.

All of these accounts add to the story of what happened, but the one fact that they all substantiate is that the tomb was empty.

‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.
He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.’ Matthew 28:5-6

I often wonder if it shouldn’t be the tomb that is used more as an image of Christ’s resurrection, a permanent reminder of the defeat of death – but equally it is the empty cross that is a powerful and iconic symbol of transformation to which we are drawn.

This is his blood which he shed for you

This is his blood which he shed for you

The truth is that in a way this transformation is what was happening on Sunday, as I watched people, coming forward to place a flower around the cross. The blooms themselves were fresh and vibrant, and everyone placed them as carefully as they could, trying not to bruise the petals. However, some found it difficult to push  them into the ‘ground’, while others knew exactly the spot they wanted in relation to the position of the cross. One flower in particular caught my attention – a beautiful cream tulip, streaked with red, that was placed right in the centre  at the very foot – which looked this morning as if its cup had opened up to catch the blood that would have fallen from Jesus’ body

Yet, as beautiful as this display had become, each single representative bloom was already dying; just as we are called to die to Christ in order to be transformed and given new life. This truly is the joy of the Easter message and yet not everyone chooses to respond to it. That, no doubt, is the greatest regret as far as God is concerned as he tries, in love, to reconcile all of his creation. However, it still doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try and do our part by sharing the Good News

Alleluia! Christ is risen
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

He is risen as he said

He is risen as he said






Seeds of New Life

Seeds and Bread

Seeds and Bread

Except a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, 
it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit’
John 12:24

 On Monday in Holy Week our church holds an informal communion and this year we were reminded of the seeds of hope and the bread of life through the beautiful liturgy of Dorothy McRae-McMahon from her book Liturgies for the Journey of Life published by SPCK

This simple and reflective service allowed us space to offer our prayers where we believed we saw the signs of the seeds of new life, however small, by placing the single seeds we had been given at the beginning of the service onto Christ’s table, where seeds are turned into bread, as we named the sign we saw and the hope we have

Also to quietly listen to Psalm 42:1-9 and to hear the Gospel through a meditative reading I had prepared based on John 12:1-11.

 Seeds of New Life

It seems incredible that we’re all here together again. It fact it is far beyond incredible and yet I must somehow believe it. Look at them all – relaxing and enjoying the meal that Martha has prepared for us. My wonderful, hardworking sister Martha – not at all as bossy as she appears but kind-hearted and generous, and so very grateful to the man who is our guest of honour this evening.

An honoured guest indeed, and yet he has become one of the family, certainly no airs and graces, just a gentle and humble presence. As I catch his eye, he smiles at me, a look of genuine love – and yet just a few weeks ago it could have been so very different.


Then I was aware that my illness had taken such a grip on me that my family was beyond hope, and yet they still had faith that he would come. They had tried to hide their tears from me, but I still heard them sobbing as the night passed and I felt myself slipping away to death and to nothingness. ..

… That was until I heard his voice, telling me to come out; but out from where? Everything seemed muffled until I realised that my whole body had been wrapped in cloths for my grave, yet the insistence in his voice gave me a sense of urgency and so I stumbled into the bright light before falling at his feet.

As I said, beyond belief… and yet I do believe.


Many of his travelling companions are with him tonight. They’ve stopped here in Bethany on their way to Jerusalem for the Passover Festival. I can hear Peter, with his loud, gruff voice cheerfully retelling stories of what they’ve been up to since we last met, and Thomas – careful, thoughtful Thomas – listening intently, and occasionally interjecting to correct some small inaccuracy of what Peter is saying, which Peter takes in good humour.

On the other side of the room, I can see Judas, looking as if he’s brooding about something. I often wonder what it was that Jesus saw in him when he called him to be one of the disciples. They say he’s good at making the small amount of money they have stretch just that little bit further, although they often seem short of cash. Still God provides for them somehow.


And at least we’ve been able to provide some warm food and plenty to drink; and Martha hasn’t had to scold Mary too much to get her to help get things ready. I can see Mary now, sitting right in amongst those nearest to him. She been so excited since she knew he was coming, full of smiles as if keeping a secret but trying not to let it burst out.

Suddenly it’s as if the room has been transported to the middle of Solomon’s garden of delights; the air heavy with a strong fragrance, familiar and yet unfamiliar. Of course… it’s nard, that purest of perfumes and also one of the most expensive. That must have been what Mary was hiding and it must have cost her a great deal, at least 300 denarii – a most precious gift indeed.


A gift that she has broken open and is now using to anoint his feet; an act of pure devotion, yet one which I can see is making her sorrowful as tears roll down her cheeks and fall on his feet, and which she wipes away with her beautiful long hair, her own glory.

The smell has obviously reached Judas’ nostrils as well, and he seems incensed, querulously asking why so much money has been wasted; that she would have been better of giving it to help the poor or maybe he wanted it in the common purse for another purpose. My dear friend was having none of it, rebuking Judas and pointing out that regrettably there would always be poor people among us, and what she has done was simply what she would do on the day of this burial. Instead we should be more worried that we might not always have him.


I wonder what he means. Perhaps he’ll soon be moving on again. Things have undoubtedly become a little more difficult. Ever since he miraculously restored me to life I have noticed that people are very confused, several of them shy away, ducking into doorways and crossing over when I walk along the streets. Still more though want to see for themselves and vast crowds of people are starting to visit our village. They too are discovering how incredible the things that he does are. It’s certainly rattling the chief priests; they don’t like to see their authority threatened.

Perhaps it’s best then that he goes away, and Mary can save the rest of the perfume till much later… Cheer up Judas, your teacher knows what he’s doing.


Bearing the Cross

Embroidered cross on altar frontal, St Peter's, Dyrham

Embroidered cross on altar frontal, St Peter’s, Dyrham

As a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief
your only Son was lifted up
that he might draw the whole world to himself.
May we walk this day in the way of the cross
and always be ready to share its weight,
declaring your love for all the world.

The above forms part of a prayer of thanksgiving for Morning Prayer during Passiontide, and as we move into Holy Week and having this morning been given a palm cross,  my thoughts have moved towards just exactly what it might mean for each of us to bear our cross… or even crosses.

If we are incredibly lucky, we might feel that our lives are pretty carefree, we have everything to meet our basic needs; food, water, shelter. Our emotional needs are also met through our families and friends  and we may even have a sense of financial security – a bit of spare cash to indulge in treats from time to time. Our crosses, although apparently light, are still with us however.  Outward crosses that carry responsibility to everyone around us. How can we not declare our love to the world?

Often, as well, we carry internal crosses. The things that we choose to bear alone; things that we are ashamed of doing and saying; things that might diminish us in other people’s eyes; things that are not hidden away from God, and who alone knows the sorrow in our hearts and our desire for repentance. How can we not allow ourselves to be uplifted?

For many people though, the cross they have to bear, like Jesus’, is an enormous weight of worries, hurts and strains. Often it is borne in situations that are not of their making or problems from which they can see no way of escape. Daily life is a struggle and at times unbearable. How can we not offer to share their load?

For Jesus the way of the cross was one that he decided to take willingly. Yet even as he made his way up to Calvary, his human frailty caused him to stumble, allowing another, Simon of Cyrene to join him in bearing the great physical weight of the wooden cross. What was even more incredible was the immeasurable weight of the world’s wrongdoings, sorrows, grief and hatred that he also chose to bear. How can we not be grateful?

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you;
by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world

The Way Of The Cross To Calvary - embroidered panel by Sue Symons. One of 35 panels that form the Bath Abbey Diptychs

The Way Of The Cross To Calvary – an embroidered panel by Sue Symons from her exhibition “One Man’s Journey To Heaven”, one of 35 panels that form the Bath Abbey Diptychs*

*Sue Symons explains that the large black circle depicts the weight of the cross and the white circle is Christ, diminished in size as he bears its horrendous weight.


Coming Into The Presence of God

Out of the Window blog2

Coming into the presence of God

Another weekend at Cuddesdon brings new insights and experiences. Whilst not my first choice, the title of the workshop ‘Embodied Prayer in Orthodox Spirituality’ filled me with a sense of intrigue.

I would class my churchmanship as neither high nor low, but rather open to a smorgasbord of traditions. I therefore, was quite receptive to finding out more about what some might class as the high end of the church where orthodoxy is concerned.

In fact where orthodoxy is concerned the Western church is somewhat of an upstart according to the Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch, which claims to use the oldest surviving liturgy in Christianity. However, I digress…

Our main purpose of the day would be to explore contemplative or noetic prayer as well as embodiment prayer – the former both involves silence and stillness (hesychia) and monologistic prayer (i.e. repeating a word or phrase such as the Jesus Prayer) – whilst the latter included prostration and the sign of the cross.

Standing to pray

Standing to pray

As the latter was more unfamiliar to me I will mention that first. Embodiment prayer, as the name suggests involves using the body in prayer and there are many ways of doing this – whether standing or kneeling or prostrating yourself – all the while offering prayer either using a set form of words or your own words. Some of which postures may seem unfamiliar practices to your average Anglican!

The Sign of the Cross

The Sign of the Cross

When it comes to making the sign of the cross during worship, it is a gesture that very often gives an immediate clue as to people’s Anglican tradition – that is those of an Anglo-Catholic persuasion. Again, this was something that I was not used to doing either in worship or prayer. Nevertheless, when it was explained using an illustration of an icon based on the baptism of Christ I was able to better appreciate its meaning.

The Baptism of Christ

The Baptism of Christ hand written by Tamara Rigishvili *

This beautiful icon [which is written not painted] shows the Trinity as a straight line from the heights of heaven to the depths of the waters – we can therefore image our bodies when we are standing upright representing that line. Our heads are warm because of the activity of our brains, from which flows creative energy (the Father), our stomachs are the watery region (the Son submerged at his baptism) and our lungs breathing air in and out (the life giving Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost)

Imagine if you will then, your thumb and first two fingers, held together as a trinitarian symbol, tracing a line from your head to your stomach up to your right shoulder then across to your left and then resting in the middle by your heart – ‘In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.’ – its symbolism becomes clearer and more affective.

However, it was the practical session on contemplative prayer that was to prove the most rewarding. Noetic prayer, as it is also known, uses a form of silent prayer (hesychia) in which the body is stilled, the ‘chattering mind’ silenced, thus creating a space where you are open to receive God. Of course it’s never that easy to just switch off your thoughts, but it allows an awareness of both intrusions and physical discomforts and lets them be by bringing yourself back to the awareness of the sense of stillness within your whole body. External noises also become absorbed so that they don’t become a distraction. It is into this space that prayer subconsciously occurs.

Psalm 46:10

Psalm 46:10

There is plenty of biblical evidence of being called to stillness in order to hear God’s voice… within many of the Psalms for example – ‘Be still and know that I am God’ (Psalm 46:10) or ‘For God alone my soul waits in silence‘ (Psalm 62:1) – and Jesus takes time to be alone with his Father, no doubt in silence as well… whether in the desert or drawing apart from his followers on occasions.

Of course, I would not, after only a couple of sessions, claim in any way to be an expert, but the technique is basically to find a comfortable place to sit, with both your feet on the ground and to work your way up your body, recognising the sensations in each part as you still yourself, drawing back to your feet, your knees, your hands, etc., should thoughts intrude; all the while becoming aware of your breathing and its natural rhythm……

What was the prayer that formed inside me during this time? Well it actually turned out to be a piece of poetry… from out of the stillness and the silence by which I came into the presence of God

Coming Into the Presence of God

Warmth suffuses the window pane,
As sunshine splashes, in gold and yellow rays
on the cushioned sill;
Sharp shadows are softened and shimmer.
I draw my knees closer
and sink into silent stillness.
The world is on pause.

Invisible neurons continue to fire;
exposed in intermittent patches of tingling energy
through soles of feet and top of scalp.
Pain ebbs and flows,
absorbed in gentle eddies;
while breath synchronises
with the ticking of the mantel clock
and thus fades as if time is motionless…

Even so the heartbeat of the earth
still pulses in sounds it offers;
received in encoded messages,
yet unencrypted to the keen ear.
A solitary bird, unseen, chirrups its joy,
and wood pigeons coo in rhythmic metre,
unfazed by passing traffic’s intrusion.

A creak, a sigh,
the door and I hold our breath;
but the inevitable slam is muted;
fading away, as calmness interrupts
and a sense of presence grows.
Like a glimmer through closed eyelids;
which open as a breeze brushes my skin

Outside, the tender branches of the trees,
laden with buds and burgeoning leaves
ripple and vibrate, echoing the silent force
of life and spirit.
Springtime flowers bend to the earth,
then dip and bob like cheery marionettes;
all proclaiming divine mystery

Recalled back into the room
by gentle chink of plate and cup,
a signal of beckoning refreshment,
and congenial chatter….
Still hold the moment a little longer
to remember another meal
and revelation in broken bread,
gone and yet forever present

The day’s workshops were led by the Reverend Jim Barlow, presently the Assistant Curate at St Peters, Burnham, Buckinghamshire and previously a student at Ripon College, Cuddesdon

*Tamara very kindly gave me permission to use her beautiful artwork in this piece. To find out more about her work please look on her website